There are many reasons the tiger population of Bangladesh has hit an all time low — the least of which is self-defense.
Bangladesh, which was once considered a stronghold for tigers, now houses less than 100. A research study published by Saima Saif of the University of Kent in Canterbury, U.K., revealed there are three main reasons tigers are being hunted in Bangladesh, especially in the Sundarbans region.
As many as 30 people are killed each year by man-eating tigers in the South Asian country, so people often kill the predators for personal safety. Other times tigers attack cattle, which lead to angry farmers poaching the animals.
However, there is another more sinister reason: organized gangs that plague Sundarbans. According to the locals, these “pirates” function like the Italian mafia and their job is not just to kill tigers, but also extort and kidnap fishermen from the village.
"You can't trust the pirates," said a villager, who wished to remain anonymous. "It is normal for them to kill tigers as they have illegal weapons and they kill tigers if they see them."
The pirates’ reason for killing tigers is partly that their organs are used in traditional medicine and for spiritual purposes, and because their skins are used for making expensive rugs. The illegal wildlife trade helps the mafia earn quick money.
According to a villager who was on good terms with a pirate, canine teeth are also in high demand.
"The gang leader has a tiger canine locket. Normally the pirate wears the ring or locket when he comes to villages to meet up with their families, as it enhances sexual virility," he said.
A woman who was married to a pirate said her husband gave her a tiger canine ring when she complained of joint pains.
Sadly, these aren’t the only reasons.
Tiger killing often serves as an act of intimidation. An owner of a fishing boat, 17 of whose fishermen were abducted by pirates, said, “My fishermen saw three tiger skulls in the trawler when they were kidnapped two months ago.”
Another fisherman, who has the misfortune of being kidnapped three times, said he was taken to a trawler where a tiger limb was hanging. A pirate told him, “See, we killed a tiger, so how long will it take to kill you!”
Conversely, the tigers are also killed by pirates as an expression of good will against the villagers. The killings give the village victims a false sense of safety, making them think the gangs will not harm them.
The Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan recommends a separate armed force to combat tiger poaching.
“The establishment of a specialist Wildlife Crime Unit would strengthen enforcement by creating improved capacity to investigate domestic crime and illegal international trade,” it said.
However, if the poaching continues at the current space, it could very well mean the extinction of this critically endangered species.